Many of the world’s most popular tourism destinations have been extra busy this summer. Unprecedented demand is spurring soaring prices for accommodations and airfare, as well as constraining availability for activities, attractions and restaurants.
Concern about the growing cost of a vacation in many of these hot spots is already keeping some potential visitors away. According to a June 2022 Destination Analysts survey of more than 4,000 American travelers, 49.5% of the respondents say high travel prices have kept them from vacationing in the past month. And just over 36% of those surveyed say increasing prices have caused them to cancel an upcoming trip.
Other research indicates travelers have been thinking seriously for months about how to avoid exceedingly busy destinations. According to a February Booking.com survey of more than 30,000 global travelers living in countries including the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and China, 64% of travelers are willing to skip popular destinations and attractions entirely to avoid overcrowding on their vacations this year.
Fortunately, there are many tourism destinations where travelers’ money might go a little further, and where vacationers are less likely to encounter overvisited attractions and availability frustrations. Here, tourism industry veterans share the vacation locales they are recommending for the rest of this year and early 2023.
Ambrose Bittner, the founder of Seattle-based tour operator Red Lantern Journeys, which specializes in FIT tour products across Asia, said his company has seen a recent increase in inquiries about Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
“Summer is low season in these countries, so they’re still quiet right now, but there are also no Russian or Chinese tourists yet,” Bittner explained. “That’s key, because Southeast Asia can get inundated — especially with Chinese tourists. So, that’s an important part of why Southeast Asia is a really nice place to go right now.”
June through the end of September is typically monsoon season in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, but Bittner said he expects the high airfares to these destinations to drop a bit as the traditional peak fall travel period approaches. And once on the ground, Americans will be happy to see that the exchange rate is favorable.
“The dollar has been really strengthening against those currencies,” he said. “In Thailand, the dollar has increased about 15% over the past year. You can eat for a dollar a meal if you want to.”
Hue, Vietnam and Java, Indonesia
Those in search of an especially low-key Southeast Asia destination may want to consider the ancient imperial capital of Hue in Vietnam, according to Bittner, who said it’s far less touristed than the Hoi An and Danang area about a three-hour drive away.
“Hue is amazing,” he said, noting its antiquity sites and imperial palaces as key attractions. “It’s a relaxing area compared to the bigger cities of Vietnam, and it’s easy and popular to cycle around. There are also great home-based cooking classes. And the city and its surrounding area have a more authentic feel to them than other parts of Vietnam.”
Those looking to escape right now, however, should think about the Indonesian island of Java, according to Bittner, who said the destination is in the middle of its high season but far less busy than nearby Bali — a longtime magnet for many Australian visitors.
“There’s great food in Yogyakarta and really friendly people,” Bittner said of one central Java city, noting the Borobudur Temple Compounds are a terrific cultural and historic attraction, about an hour’s drive north. “And the MesaStila Resort and Spa is a great place to stay relatively nearby that’s actually situated on an organic coffee plantation with beautiful colonial-style villas.”
Nicole Mazza, chief marketing officer for Travelsavers, Inc., said the consortium is seeing growing interest in trips across the U.S. northern border, where she said the favorable exchange rate and more affordable airfares have piqued the interest of consumers looking to travel now.
You can definitely still get that European flavor clients are looking for in these destinations, and they’re just beautiful cities with so much to do.
“We are seeing clients who maybe can’t get into Europe — perhaps because flights are just too astronomically priced — who are looking for alternatives such as Montreal and Quebec City,” Mazza said. “You can definitely still get that European flavor clients are looking for in these destinations, and they’re just beautiful cities with so much to do.”
Sabrina Robson, the travel media relations manager for Destination British Columbia, said the economics of a Canada vacation are especially friendly right now for the nation’s southern neighbors.
“For U.S. visitors, your dollar really does stretch much further,” Robson explained. “One U.S. dollar right now is about $1.30 Canadian, so there’s definitely good value there for American travelers.”
Although Robson did indicate travelers will likely find busy pockets in Vancouver now during the peak summer season, she was quick to note British Columbia (B.C.) is bigger than both France and Germany combined, covering 364,000 square miles, and it’s home to many tourism destinations that are eager to welcome back visitors.
“Compared to 2019, U.S. visitor arrivals are still down about 59%,” Robson said. “We are certainly up from last year and excited to see visitation picking back up again from the States, but there is a lot of room to grow.”
For U.S. visitors, your dollar really does stretch much further.
Robson says there is a diverse collection of vacation options, including alpine hiking and camping in the Canadian Rockies, as well as wine tasting in the Okanagan Valley. She also mentioned a Northern B.C. summertime attraction sure to interest wildlife lovers.
“We have the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary there, which is Canada’s only grizzly bear sanctuary, and they have lots of availability now for grizzly bear tours,” Robson said. “There are also remote, luxury, all-inclusive lodges that are fly-in, including Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort. It’s definitely a high-end experience, but it’s all-inclusive, so it takes a lot of the guesswork out for people.”
U.S. travelers who are interested in a beach getaway a little closer to home, but are turned off by soaring room rates and availability constraints in Hawaii this summer, may want to think about Puerto Rico, a destination Travelsavers’ Mazza says has fully recovered from Hurricane Maria’s devastating toll in 2017.
“We were down in Puerto Rico last month, and it has made a great comeback,” she said. “There’s value at every level and great inventory in terms of flights going in. Everything is in the U.S. dollar, and there’s no issue with passports or visas. Everybody speaks English. There’s a terrific variety of activities — more so than a lot of the Caribbean islands. For example, you’ve got the rainforest, water activities and the old city forts. There’s so much rich history in Puerto Rico. Plus, there’s gambling on the island, so there are casinos.”
Portugal and the Azores
Island fans in search of a more European feel should put some serious thought into a visit to the Azores, according to Steve Lima, U.S. marketing manager for G Adventures.
“What’s crazy is that it’s only a four-hour flight from Boston,” Lima said of the Atlantic archipelago, located about 850 miles off the west coast of Portugal. “There are so many beautiful things to see there, and the food is top-notch. The pricing is low; there are some cool, boutique-style, character-rich hotels we use; and there are so many amazing hikes. There’s a hike around Sao Miguel’s volcanic crater that is just spectacular. … And for people looking for that low tourism number, there’s not going to be a ton of visitors in the Azores.”
Sarah Johnson, the owner of Paper, Ink & Passports Travel, a Waterbury, Conn.-based Virtuoso affiliate, said she’s also been booking more trips to Portugal recently as an alternative to other busy and more expensive European destinations.
“Portugal has terrific wine, great beaches and great golf,” she said. “It’s on the euro, but it tends to be a little less expensive even during peak season than Greece or Italy, and if someone’s looking for that summer getaway, it’s a really nice option right now.”
Egypt and Tunisia
For travelers looking to plan a trip later this fall, Johnson is recommending Egypt.
“There’s a lot of availability, but also, a lot of the river cruise companies are starting to go back to Egypt,” she said. “You have AmaWaterways coming back in. Lindblad has a ship there. Abercrombie & Kent does stuff there. You have all these companies who are introducing new itineraries, so I think it’s a great time to look at Egypt.”
For clients who have already seen Egypt and are looking to visit a destination that will one-up their friends, Johnson recommended another North African country.
“Tunisia is a little more adventurous and off the beaten track,” she said. “It’s got a lot of the same appeal that Egypt has with its culture and ruins. But it has also has a very Greek feeling because it was part of ancient Greece, so a lot of the ruins there are Greek ruins. But you still have Islamic architecture, Islamic traditions and culture all combined with French influence.”
G Adventures’ Lima was also quick to mention the upcoming expedition season to the planet’s southernmost visitor destination, noting that the pandemic’s heavy toll on the tourism business there is likely to mean lower-than-usual package pricing in the near term.
“A lot of expedition companies had to park their Antarctica ships because of all the regulations and the COVID-19 testing, and the Argentinian government would not really let ships come into port in Ushuaia,” he said.
“So, my bet is that every company is looking to drive business in 2023 and 2024. I think now is probably going to be the cheapest time to go, because all these companies want to book those ships and get them full again.”